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China Revisited

Image: china-map_cropped.jpg

'Our Dear, Little, Shining Saint'

Diane Spiers tells a moving story about returning to the land of her birth

Both my parents went to China as missionaries in the late 1930’s. They went as single people but married during their seven year term. There was little contact with home as letters took around six weeks and did not always arrive at either end and the world was in turmoil with World War Two.

I was born two and a half years after my brother and just at the end of the war, though conflict within China continued between the Nationalists and the Communists. My parents had to get out and their exit was dangerous. As we were separated neither knew of the safety of the other but, thank God, we all reached Kalimpong and from there got home safely.

It had been an ambition of my husband, John, to take me to the place of my birth and two years ago I returned. Well before we left for our holiday, I tried to make contact with Eva. She was the young Chinese Christian girl who had looked after my brother and me and helped my Mother in the house cooking and caring for us. My attempts were fruitless. No reply came to my letters.

When we arrived in Dali our guide asked if any of the group had been there before. I told him that I had been born there. He laughed and did not believe me. I was not amused! I told him, quite severely, to check out an old map (Tali was the spelling then and is now Dali) and to ask his elders about Protestant Missionaries around the 1940’s.

Diane's parents, Lois and David Watson

In the morning he made a point of finding us and apologised most profusely for having disbelieved my story. When I added that my Grandmother too had given seven years of her life to work in China at the end of the nineteenth century he promised to do all he could, once our official tours were finished, to find what we could of my past.

Dali had two parts, the old and the new. We were wanting to rediscover Old Dali, the place of my birth. We did! Aaron, our guide, took us to the church where my parents had worshipped. It was open and a young lady within directed us to an address where an elderly couple lived who may remember the missionaries.

We knocked at the door of their humble abode. An elderly ‘old style’ Chinese gentleman opened the door; Aaron addressed him in Chinese then he turned and beckoned to us to go in as the man remembered the missionaries. When the old man suddenly pointed at me and said, “You must have brudder (brother).” I almost burst into tears. God had brought us to the very house where the old man and his wife lived. He had worked with my father, assisting him when he went out to surrounding villages.

His wife appeared and joined us. She asked if I knew Eva and why had I not contacted her. She, Faith, (the name given her by the missionaries) was in regular contact with Eva, phoning her every month. We talked and talked and then a distant memory sparked in my head of my father singing “Jesus loves me this I know” but in Chinese. I started to sing. Faith joined in. John sat with tears on his face, Aaron openly wept … and I struggled to keep singing. Faith asked Aaron if he knew Jesus. She then told him the Calvary story using Chinese, English and sign language. It was certainly ‘tongues of fire’. Faith finished with the words, “You need Jesus.” Aaron replied in almost a sob, “Yes, I think I do.”

Faith promised to telephone Eva and pass on our flight details, if our guide would pass them on to her, for as chance would have it? – no, as God had planned it - later in our tour we had to change planes in Kunming airport, the town (about 400 miles from Dali) where Eva lived.

Timothy and Faith took us on a short tour which included the hospital (now rebuilt but in the same style as the original) showing me the maternity ward where I was born and theatre area where my Father had worked as a surgeon. We were shown the compound where we lived, again rebuilt but in the old style, exactly where our house had been. Now a bible college, it had running water and electricity unlike the old times when water was drawn from the well which is still in use in the old town.

The miracles continued as Faith asked if I knew the missionary family with whom she had worked as if it would be obvious that we would… but we DID! They had recently moved and become neighbours of and good friends with my Mother-in-law. We were able to fill Faith in with all the news she wanted to know. We had been shown photographs of them living in the same complex as my parents.

We left our flight details with Aaron and continued on our tour. We had no means of knowing whether Aaron had taken them to Timothy and Faith or not but certainly hoped that he had.

The anticipation of the landing and possible reunion with Eva in Kunming was palpable. Would she be there? How we prayed that she would. The vastness of the great land mass that is China struck us as we flew for over four hours at a stretch from one destination to another yet God had given us the opportunity of finding the equivalent of a cattle shed.

Knowing that ‘fraternising with Westerners’ could still be problematic for Eva, I had written a somewhat vague card which I intended to hold up as our plane-load of people was herded into the arrivals area. Here we met up with a new guide who was anxious to get us to the departure lounge. I walked very slowly holding up my placard, both John and I scanning the crowd for a tiny old Chinese lady. She was not there. We had to move on. Our cases were shunted through for the next flight but I wanted to return to the arrivals lounge once more – just in case.

We had an hour to spare. Downstairs was much less busy as we walked slowly along followed by two of our fellow passengers determined not to miss anything. All seemed lost when I spotted a tiny little lady looking very sad and behind her was a white younger lady. I held up my notice. It was as if a light had been switched on inside the head of the little lady. A thousand wrinkles shattered into the biggest smile as she read my message and our eyes met. Yes, it was Eva. Our dear, little shining saint of 86 years – our tiny Eva. With her was Lisa, an American missionary who had brought Eva to the airport.

Diane Spiers with Eva at Kunming Airport

After our initial emotional greetings and the enormity of the miracle unfolding before us, we found a quiet corner in a tea house in the airport where we could sit and chat. Again I sang, ‘Jesus loves me’ and Eva joined in in Chinese. She recalled stories of ‘long ago’ with our family – stories I had heard from my parents. Her fondness for them was crystal clear. What was also transparent was her total commitment to and love of her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. While I filled Eva in with news of our family Lisa told John about Eva’s remarkable life and witness.

Eva’s life of service had been remarkable. She always put the needs of others first and was a shining example of selfless love. Jesus mattered so much to her. Even imprisonment could not dampen her spirits or lessen her zeal. She continued to witness to His love everywhere she went.

Through Lisa and email we were able to keep in touch. We sent old photographs to Eva as all hers had been confiscated when she was imprisoned.

A year after our visit news came to us that Eva had been admitted to hospital. As a result of unsuccessful surgery some days later she died.

It is hard to imagine how great would be the rejoicing in heaven or to gauge the loss to the local people she served so loyally, generously and well.

An edited version of this story appeared in May's Life and Work